I do wonder, however, if the violence indicates something of the pressures under which people have been living for the past months. There‘s a lot of fear, grief and anger around. Maybe it’s unconscious but it’s lurking about and something we’re probably all tapping into. People are unsure of how we’re going to come out of lockdown, fearful for their jobs, insecure about how society will be. Some are champing at the bit to get back to normal, others are fearful that we will get back to normal, hoping but unsure of what the new normal might be. People are tired and weary, missing their families and the kind of activities that can help them let off steam. So for some people the present violence seems to be a way of doing just that. We have some people wanting to eradicate all evidence of the past, others wanting to protect it – and all this has become focussed on the statues of philanthropists whose fortune has benefitted societal and educational institutions.
I’m not for pulling down these statues, not because I want the individuals put on a pedestal but because I would want the true story of what they did told. It’s possible to put beside the statue of a slave owner another statue that shows the source of their wealth and an explanation of how they earned it and contributed to the slave trade. Street names in Glasgow that remember slave owners could have a plaque telling their story so that we don’t forget. We cannot and must never forget the past. We carry it with us in our subconscious and if we are to be free of its tyranny we must face it with honesty and courage. As the poet Maya Angelou said at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
There are many hidden viruses in our society – racial inequality is just one of them. What distresses me at this time is the smoke screen put up by Covid 19. We have so much information about it. We recognise that people from black and ethnic backgrounds seem to be more susceptible to the virus. We acknowledge our dependence on care workers, nurses, unskilled workers who keep the infrastructure of society going. We admit that they are underpaid and not given the recognition they should be. We accept that the National Health Service could not survive without overseas workers, both skilled and unskilled. We are warned of the recession that is coming in the aftermath of the virus, of the need for a new kind of society which will learn from the good that has been around.
And yet, the Westminster Government is intent on an immigration bill which will limit the numbers coming into the country of those who have been seen to be so important for our health and well – being. It is denying unaccompanied children refuge. It is refusing to compromise on the leaving date for Brexit to ease a recession. Members of the government, like many billionaires in this country, have actually benefitted from Covid. They have their businesses overseas so that they don’t pay tax but ask the Government to pay to furlough their employers.
Yes, there’s a lot to be angry about and we should protest. But we need to protest not with violence but with love and compassion. Each of us needs to recognise that we are all implicated in some way in these evils. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that ”when we look deeply into ourselves, we see both flowers and garbage. Each of us has anger, hatred, depression, racial discrimination, and many other kinds of garbage in us, but there is no need for us to be afraid. In the way that a gardener knows how to transform compost into flowers, we can learn the art of transforming anger, depression, and racial discrimination into love and understanding”. This is our task which will only be accomplished by honesty, courage, honouring the pain within and without, letting our voice be heard and trying in whatever way we can to make a new world possible.